If you read my previous blog about our four month Southeast Asia Itinerary, you’ll know that Bangkok is where I urge every new-to-Asia traveller to start. One reason being that it is where most of the cheaper flights will arrive into and onward travel is much cheaper once you’re within Asia than flying direct to your first destination. The second reason being it’s a great introduction into the travelling life as most people start their travels here, so the streets are packed with like-minded travellers who are super eager to meet new people and have a great time! During our four months of travelling SE Asia, we actually passed through Bangkok four times, so my itinerary is a little of a white lie as this is the stuff we did over the course of those visits, but it could easily be packed into a few days. We just took our time as we knew we would be coming back a few times! Many people I have met didn’t warm to Bangkok as much as we did, they usually say they hate how crazy and touristy it is. However, most of those people have only ever seen Khao San road. There is a lot more to Bangkok than the backpacker area of Khao San but you shouldn’t write it off altogether as it does have its’ charms!
Khao San Road
This is where the majority of ‘cheap’ backpacker pads are going to be – don’t expect much for your money, the prices are inflated because its the capital so you might have to spend a little more than £10 a night (for a couple or £5 for a single) if you want a nicer room for your first night away. We stayed in the Sawasdee Bangkok Inn twice because I managed to find a private AC double with bathroom for £10 on Agoda, which is unheard of! It was actually such a good deal that we were rushing to book it whilst boarding our flight from Mumbai to Bangkok with the weak airport wifi we could still reach from our plane – stressful! This hotel is very basic but good enough as it less than 100m from Khao San road but far enough that you can’t hear the noise – be warned if you stay on Khao San road you will not sleep, the parties are all night and the windows are like paper. Staying your first night here means you can have everything you need at an arm’s reach – travel agents for booking onward travel, delicious and cheap street food, stalls and shops for almost anything you will have forgotten.
“Don’t take much as there will be so much out there to buy!”… people said this to me so much before I went away but it’s hard to pay attention as you always want your own clothes. But on Khao San road and surrounding alleys you can buying everything (chargers, sunglasses, backpacks, shoes, souvenirs… the list goes on) and trust me you’ll want to fill your backpack with the little sundresses and tops. But hold on – everywhere you go there is slightly different stock, buy one or two pieces if you really love them here but otherwise save yourself a little room for each place you go; Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia were complete hot spots for market shopping!
*If you don’t want to stay around Khao San road, another nice part of Bangkok is the Sathorn/Silom area which I’ve included a section of further down and the places we stayed*
Basic Itinerary for Khao San?
Head out with an empty belly after dark, walk up and down and sample from all of the little food shacks on wheels, fill your belly, grab a Chang or a bucket (you can barter for these) filled with whatever mix you desire and wander contentedly until a bar’s drink offer seems tempting enough to go in! However, all of the bars spill out onto the street and bucket stalls line the streets so you don’t actually have to be in a bar to have a drink, enjoy the music and soak up the atmosphere. Our first night, we wondered along eating 40 baht pad Thai, fried quail eggs and chicken satay then bought a couple of buckets and sat down to have a foot massage on the street while we watched the world go by! Make sure you also barter for the foot massage – almost every service/drink/product you can buy in Thailand, you can and should barter for a better price!
Make sure you don’t stick to Khao San the entire time like I said earlier, as there is a lot to be sampled in the surrounding streets from little shops to different cafes, and lots more street food! This is actually a little quieter to stay in but as you are just a stone’s throw from Khao San, you can have the best of both worlds. A nice hotel here is Rambuttri Village which Glen has stayed in a few times before, but book ahead and it’s usually always full. Rambuttri alley runs parallel and is Khao San’s more chilled, friendly neighbour, with a variety of bars, different food joints and cafes.
This is a nice start to Bangkok sight-seeing, you’ll find these being offered around Khao San but its better to make the little walk of around 300-400m to the river and walk along until you find a long boat river cruise. As you walk along, there will be people who offer you a private longboat cruise but unless you have £20 each to spare I’d give this a miss. The river cruise we went on cost 40B per person for an hour and there was only one other couple on the boat with us! But make sure
Now, Bangkok is home to a lot of temples. Glen had previously lived in Bangkok for 10 months before we met but he couldn’t even remember which ones he’d been to, even when I showed him pictures! So I took it upon myself to research and go to the ones I wanted to see.
AKA Temple of the Reclining Buddha, I wanted to feast my eyes on this huge relaxed Buddha (spoiler photo below) – its 46 metres long and sits within one of the largest temple complexes in Bangkok! Entry costs 100 baht – around £2.50. Make sure you cover up, I wore my strapless jumpsuit which covered my knees and took a t-shirt with me to put on when we entered the hall to see the Buddha. Tip – wear flip flops when you have your day of temple visits as you are constantly taking your shoes on and off when you enter various halls of worship, it will save a lot of hassle!
AKA the Golden Mount. This temple sits above the rest quite literally as it’s a 300 step climb to the top which is relatively easy as long as you don’t go at midday like we did. I’m pretty sure it was free entry, and we didn’t have to cover up here but I still carry a scarf on you just in case! I’ll do a blog soon about what to wear at different temples around SE Asia, some are more strict than others but it’s always good to check online before you go!
Best known for the giant red swing that sits out the front of this temple complex – we don’t have a picture, so you’ll have to go see for yourself! Entry was around 100 baht – £2.50
and plenty more!
There are literally hundreds of temples across Bangkok. If these three aren’t enough, do your research and fill your boots! Wat Pra Keaw, sits within the grounds of the Golden Palace, and can be seen from the river cruise, hence we didn’t visit this one on foot, but would be worth a visit if you don’t get to see it! This website listing the 10 best temples to see in Bangkok was a really useful guide for us.
You will see a lot of temples throughout your travels – being ‘templed out’ becomes a thing for sure. If you do go on a mad temple tour, make sure you hire a tuk tuk for the day that will take you to all these temples and wait for you whilst you go in. They will also give you a rough time to be inside each one so that you can definitely make it to all of the temples you want to see. We paid 400 baht to be taken to these 3 temples so use that as a guide, bear in mind distance and make sure you agree a price first!
*Want to make sure you don’t get ripped off? Read my #1 tip for using tuk tuks in Bangkok at the bottom of this page!*
Jatujak/Chatuchak Market (friday night only)
If you’re lucky enough to be in Bangkok on a Friday night, make sure you head to Jatujak Market or JJ market as its commonly known. You’ll need to get a taxi or tuk tuk from Khao San (I think we paid around 150B for two) as it’s a little further from the main tourist district. This is a market not aimed at travellers but you’ll find every cool, young Thai person is here with their friends. I recently learnt that it is one of the biggest markets in Southeast Asia, with over 8,000 market stalls! You won’t see a stall selling elephant print trousers in this market, instead you’ll find individual stalls with a small number of pieces at great prices – there’s no need to barter here as everything is priced up and aimed at the local people. As well as clothes, accessories and ornaments, you’ll find an amazing assortment of food stalls. This whole market has an air of Shoreditch about it – cool cafes, clothes shops and bars all sitting within containers! It’s free to get in, unfortunately we only went on our last visit to Bangkok but I will definitely go again when we are next in Bangkok!
Sathorn – sky bars & River bars
Sathorn is the less mad, more upmarket area of Bangkok. We stayed here during our most recent visit to Bangkok as it was our anniversary and we wanted to be near all the nice river bars and also the sky bars all tend to be around this part of the city. It’s the home to the Lebua State Tower – made more famous by the Hangover Movie but its views and bar are among the best! *Glen actually surprised me with dinner here on our anniversary – scroll down to read more!*
We stayed in two hotels that I can recommend, the first being The Furama Silom. This was a beautiful, posh hotel with a gorgeous rooftop pool and amazing views – the breakfast was also amazing. It was around £40 a night so we were really breaking the bank for our special treat, but it’s definitely worth it for a special occasion – we had been backpacking for three and a half months by this point! The second hotel was The Step Sathorn, again a nice hotel but no pool and a lot cheaper around £15 a night, but it’s super close to the sky bars and also a stone’s throw from the BTS (overground tube) if you fancy riding that – it’s actually very easy to work out.
If you’re staying in this area, definitely hop in a taxi or on foot to Jack’s bar. It’s right on the river edge, a plastic chair and small wooden table type place with an awesome view of the river and a really nice vibe. There are lots of locals in here which always makes it feel like you found a buzzing little gem! There’s also a food market at the beginning of the street that Jack’s is on so grab some cheap grub there beforehand. Jack’s is very traditional, it’s beer with a bucket of ice or it’s rum – those are your choices (although on our last visit I did see a wine section opening up) but it’s totally worth it for the atmosphere !
I’m planning to do a separate post about dinner at the Lebua Tower but put simply, it was insane! I am incredibly lucky to have a boyfriend as amazing as Glen as he absolutely takes joy in surprising me and spoiling me which nine times out of ten results in me crying from being completely overwhelmed – exactly what happened this night. We were planning to go somewhere nice for dinner and started researching in the afternoon from our nice hotel room after a day by the pool. Glen then announces he’s found a place, books it on the phone and tells me its a surprise so I have to wait.
We got all fancied up, jumped in a taxi, we stopped and continued on foot, Glen ‘pretending’ he was using the map on his phone to find the place. When we got to the entrance of the Lebua, I said ‘oh look that’s where we come later then’ (we were planning to have a drink in the sky bar after dinner) but Glen turned and said ‘yep this must be it’ with a huge grin. Safe to say I was completely dumbfounded and struggled to say a word apart from ‘wow’ and gasping until we were seated at our table in the Breeze Restaurant 52 floors up. Check out the view below! It was stunning, the service was beyond incredible and the food was the best I’ve ever had in my life – we had the chef’s tasting menu with the complimentary wine recommendations. If you’re looking for something super duper special to do and you both really enjoy fancy food and wine, then this is it!
Other sky bars in sathorn
The Lebua Skybar is the world’s highest open air bar in the world on the 64th floor so we just had to tick that box. It charges around £15-20 per cocktail and around £10 for a beer, but there are cheaper ones. Vertigo Rooftop bar sits on the 61st floor and comes in a close par with the Lebua and is special as it has nothing above the bar, like the Lebua has the dome in view so it feels very open. There are lots of others, check out this article for the top rooftop bars and their locations. The Zoom Bar sits on the 40th floor and was voted the best value sky bar in Bangkok, this is definitely one for backpackers on a budget as they have 2-4-1 happy hour between 5.30pm and 8pm! Most bars you will have to dress up, no flip-flops or vests, so make sure you check with the bar’s dress code policy before turning up as you will be turned away!
Pat pong – aka ladyboy bars
Whilst staying in Bangkok, we met up with two of Glen’s friend, a couple that had recently moved out to there to live. Ash, Jo and Glen all said it was a right of passage to go to the Patpong area as it was my first time in Bangkok. This is a place where if the girls are good at pool, it usually means you could pay them to go home with you at the end of the night. It’s almost like walking down the red light district in Amsterdam at night except the girls (and boys) aren’t behind glass. Patpong at night is essentially a large night market selling touristy souvenirs, t-shirts, etc – basically one where you can buying everything – and all the bars are built around the market and in small roads coming off the market.
After wandering through the market, we were ushered into a bar, of which Ash, Jo and Glen all knew what was inside, I however did not. Seated at the front, what met us was a line of attractive girls on stage in their underwear and bikinis. Feeling hilariously uncomfortable, I spent most of my time trying to talk to Glen and avoid their eye contact. With a drink in hand, my prudish sense loosened up a bit and we began a game of Spot The Legitimate Female – which, for the record, is extremely hard when they all look as immaculate as they do. The giveaways? The ladyboys tend to be a lot more insecure than the actual ladies, adjusting themselves often, re-applying makeup on stage and checking the mirror every five seconds, which kind of left a sadness within me. It is definitely an experience – not one I’m sure I’d rush to repeat, but definitely one everyone should experience at least once in Thailand. It is part of the mass culture here and this is definitely one way to see this side of Thailand whilst being in the comforts of the fact that you are still in a touristy part of town.
I did have a slight moral dilemma whether to write about this at all as I still needed some clarification on whether this was exploitation or not. I’ve read that apparently, in Thailand, it is still not ‘acceptable’ to be openly homosexual in most parts of the country, including Bangkok itself, but being camp is not a problem. This mass culture of ladyboys has seemingly arisen through the awareness of homosexual men being able to have relations with other men if they present themselves as a woman. This goes some way to explain why, when Thailand is mentioned socially, a ladyboy joke soon follows. The whole thing raises a lot of questions… for example, if being homosexual became accepted in Thailand, would that mean that the amount of ladyboys would reduce with gay men no longer having to hide behind a female exterior in order to seek their true desires? Or is it too much of a tourist attraction that homosexual men would continue to be ladyboys? However, even straight men dress up as ladyboys for the entertainment of tourists in certain places so perhaps it is largely due to tourism. An interesting topic for sure.
No. 1 tip for using tuk tuks in bangkok
AVOID THE 10 BAHT TUK TUK! Everywhere you see a tuk tuk around Khao San road they will be most likely holding a sign with a variety of tourist attractions and 10 or 20 Baht written next to them. They will advertise that this is a 10 baht tuk tuk ride to see all of these things, however it is something quite different if you accept the invitation. They will take you to an ‘authorised’ travel agency where you will be met with some ‘amazing deals’ on tours and trips that are ending today. Another thing is that you may also be asked if you will go to a gem shop and have a look around, ‘you won’t have to buy anything’, so that the tuk tuk man can get free gasoline from the shop owner. Again, you’ll probably be walking away with some coloured glass you didn’t want! Just be wary. Not to say don’t take tuk tuks, apart from taxis for longer journeys, tuk tuks are all we ever used in Bangkok! Just make sure you agree a price beforehand so that you don’t get hit with an unexpected bill at the end of your journey.
biggest tip for avoiding scams in thailand?
Thai people are some of the loveliest people I have ever met, they have kind souls and smiles for everyone however there will always be people who want to take advantage of a western face. Simply, if it seems too good to be true, it most likely is. Be weary of any local, whether he be young or old, that approaches you. They will most likely speak good English and present you with help, an idea, advice or a trip, all often too good to be true – this is usually a scam so don’t go with them. This website offers the five best known scams in Bangkok, its a very worthwhile read if you want to save some baht!
Where to next?
Not sure where to head next? Stay tuned for more blogs on the following places but here are a few ideas if you’re looking for some inspiration after Bangkok. We did Thailand in two parts in order to avoid the rainy seasons (west and east have very different weather!). Read about our travels in Thailand and which route we took in our 4 month SE Asia itinerary here!
Kanchanaburi & Erawan Waterfalls
Ayyuthaya – Thailand’s Ancient City
Khao Soi Dao National Park
Chiang Mai & Pai (read my post on the best things to do in Chiang Mai here)
West – Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Krabi, Phuket, Koh Lipe
East – Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui
Central – Surathani, Khao Sok National Park
Book a bus online through Giant Ibis either on 12go or directly through them. They are great! It was the most relaxing 6 hour journey to Siem Reap and considering we were crossing a country’s border on foot it couldn’t have gone smoother!
Stay tuned as this is just the beginning, many more Thailand adventures coming soon!